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Human rights in Libya

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Title: Human rights in Libya  
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Human rights in Libya

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Human rights in Libya is the record of human rights upheld and violated in various stages of Libya's history. The Kingdom of Libya, from 1951 to 1969, was heavily influenced and educated by the British and American oil companies. The King was very westernized and Libya also had a constitution. The kingdom, however, was marked by a feudal regime, where Libya had a low literacy rate of 10%, a low life expectancy of 57 years, and 40% of the population lived in shanties, tents, or caves.[1] Illiteracy and homelessness were chronic problems during this era, when iron shacks dotted many urban centres on the country.[2]

From 1969 to 2011, the history of Libya was marked by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (where jamahiriya means "state of the masses"), a "direct democracy" political system established by Muammar Gaddafi,[3] who nominally stepped down from power in 1977, but remained an unofficial "Brother Leader" until 2011. Under the Jamahiriya, the country's literacy rate rose to 90%, and welfare systems were introduced that allowed access to free education, free healthcare, and financial assistance for housing. In 2008, the General People's Congress has declared the Great Green Charter of Human Rights of the Jamahiriyan Era.[4] The Great Manmade River was also built to allow free access to fresh water across large parts of the country.[1] In addition, illiteracy and homelessness had been "almost wiped out,"[2] and financial support was provided for university scholarships and employment programs,[5] while the nation as a whole remained debt-free.[6] As a result, Libya's Human Development Index in 2010 was the highest in Africa and greater than that of Saudi Arabia.[1]

In 2005, the US government-funded Freedom House gave low ratings for political rights and civil liberties, and gave it the freedom rating of "Not Free".[7] In 2010, Amnesty International published a critical report on Libya, raising concerns about cases of enforced disappearances and other human rights violations that remained unresolved, and that Internal Security Agency members implicated in those violations continued to operate with impunity.[8] In January 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council published a report analysing the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya's human rights record with input from member nations, most of which (including many European and most Asian, African and South American nations) generally praised the country's progressive efforts in human rights, though some (particularly Australia, France, Israel, Switzerland, and the United States) raised concerns about human rights abuses concerning cases of disappearance and torture, and restrictions on free press and free association; Libya agreed to investigate cases involving disappearance and torture, and to repeal any laws criminalizing political expression or restricting a free independent press, and affirmed that it had an independent judiciary.[9]

Libya under Gaddafi

Revolutionary Committees

In the early 1970s, Gaddafi created the Revolutionary Committees as conduits for raising political consciousness, with the aim of direct political participation by all Libyans. In 1979, however, some of these committees had eventually evolved into self-appointed, sometimes zealous, enforcers of revolutionary orthodoxy.[10] During the early 1980s, these committees had considerable power and became a growing source of tension within the Jamihiriya,[11] to the extent that Gaddafi sometimes criticized their effectiveness and excessive repression,[10][11] until the power of the Revolutionary Committees were eventually restricted in the late 1980s.[11]

The Revolutionary Committees had been accused of resembling similar systems in totalitarian countries; reportedly, 10 to 20 percent of Libyans worked in surveillance for these committees, with surveillance taking place in government, in factories, and in the education sector.[12] They also posted bounties for the killing of Libyan critics charged with treason abroad.[12][13] Opposition activists were occasionally executed publicly and the executions were rebroadcast on public television channels.[12][14]

In 1988, Gaddafi criticized the excessive measures taken by the Revolutionary Councils, stating that "they deviated, harmed, tortured" and that "the true revolutionary does not practise repression."[15] That same year, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya issued the Great Green Document on Human Rights, in which Article 5 established laws that allowed greater freedom of expression. Article 8 of The Code on the Promotion of Freedom stated that "each citizen has the right to express his opinions and ideas openly in People’s Congresses and in all mass media."[9] A number of restrictions were also placed on the power of the Revolutionary Committees, leading to a resurgence in the Libyan state's popularity by the early 1990s.[11] In 2004, however, Libya posted a $1 million bounty for journalist Ashur Shamis, under the allegation that he was linked to Al-Qaeda and terror suspect Abu Qatada.[16]

Foreign languages and migrant workers

Until recently, foreign languages were not part of the school curriculum. One protester in 2011 described the situation as: "None of us can speak English or French. He kept us ignorant and blindfolded".[17] The US State Department claimed that ethnic, Islamic fundamentalist and tribal minorities suffer discrimination, and that the state continues to restrict the labour rights of foreign workers.[18] In 1998, CERD expressed concern about alleged “acts of discrimination against migrant workers on the basis of their national or ethnic origin,” which the United Nations Human Rights Council also expressed concern about in 2010.[19] Human Rights Watch in September 2006 documented how migrant workers and other foreigners were subjected to human rights abuses,[20] which have increased drastically against black Africans under the National Transitional Council following the Libyan Civil War.[21]

Criticism of allegations

The Libyan Arab Jamhairiya rejected the allegations against the country. They pointed to how their country is founded on direct people's democracy that guaranteed direct exercise of authority by all citizens through the people's congresses. Citizens were able to express opinions of the congresses on issues related to political, economic, social, and cultural issues. In addition, there were information platforms such as newspapers and TV channels for people to express their opinions through. Libyan authorities also argued that no one in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya suffered from extreme poverty and hunger, and that the government guaranteed a minimum of food and essential needs to people with low incomes. In 2006, an initiative was adopted for providing people with low incomes investment potfolios amounting to $30,000 to be deposited with banks and companies.[22]

HIV trial

The HIV trial in Libya (or Bulgarian nurses affair) concerns the trials, appeals and eventual release of six foreign medical workers charged with conspiring to deliberately infect over 400 children with HIV-tainted blood in 1998, causing an epidemic at El-Fatih Children's Hospital in Benghazi.[23] On 6 May 2004, a Libyan court sentenced the workers to death. They were eventually remanded to Bulgarian custody in 2007, and subsequently pardoned.[24] The Libyan government filed complaints about the matter with the Arab League before the government's overthrow in 2011.

Abu Salim alleged prison massacre

In 2006, [28]

The figure of 1200 killed was arrived at by Al Shafa’i allegedly calculating the number of meals he prepared when he was working in the prison's kitchen. At the same time, Al Shafa'i stated "I was asked by the prison guards to wash the watches that were taken from the bodies of the dead prisoners..." [28]

The Libyan Government rejected the allegations about Abu Salim. In May 2005, the Internal Security Agency head of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya told Human Rights Watch that the prisoners captured some guards and stole weapons from the prison cache. The prisoners and guards died as security personnel tried to restore order, and the government opened an investigation on the order of the Minister of Justice. The Libyan official stated that more than 400 prisoners escaped Abu Salim in four separate break-outs prior to and after the incident: in July 1995, December 1995, June 1996 and July 2001. Among the escapees were men who then fought with Islamist militant groups in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.[28]

In 2009, the Libyan government stated that the killings took place amid confrontation between the government and rebels from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and that some 200 guards were killed as well.[29] In January 2011, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya confirmed that it was carrying out an investigation into the incident along with international investigators.[9]

The Libyan insurgents claimed that 1270 people were buried at a supposed mass grave they discovered.[30] However, investigators from CNN and other organizations found only what appeared to be animal bones at the site.[31]


In January 2011, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya stated that the practice of torture and ill treatment was forbidden in article 434 of the Penal Code, which stated that public officials who had ordered the torture of a person or had committed an act of torture were sentenced to 3 to 10 years’ imprisonment.[9] Gaddafi openly condemned the use of torture, as a criticism against several Revolutionary Committees that had condoned the use of torture.[15]

Torture was allegedly used by Libya's security forces to punish rebels after the rebellion hit north west Libya during the civil war.[32] Torture has been used by rebel forces, who established unofficial detention facilities equipped with torture devices such as ropes, sticks and rubber hoses. The rebels have used torture against many suspected Gaddafi supporters, targeting black Africans in particular.[33]

Civil war

Various states and supranational bodies have condemned the use of military and mercenaries against Libyan civilians during the Libyan Civil War, an allegation that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi denies.[34]

After an emergency meeting on 22 February, the Arab League suspended Libya from taking part in council meetings and Moussa issued a statement condemning the "crimes against the current peaceful popular protests and demonstrations in several Libyan cities."[35][36] Libya was suspended from the UN Human Rights Council by a unanimous vote of the UN General Assembly, citing the Gaddafi government's use of violence against protesters.[37] A number of governments, including Britain, Canada, Switzerland, the United States, Germany and Australia took action to freeze assets of Gaddafi and his associates.[38] The move was criticised as double-standard as numerous similar human right abuses in Bahrain, Yemen or elsewhere produced no action at all.[39]

Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, estimated that between 500 and 700 people were killed by Gaddafi's security forces in February 2011, before the rebels even took up arms. "Shooting at protestors was systematic," Moreno-Ocampo stated, discussing the Libyan government's response to the initial pro-democracy demonstrations.[40]

Moreno-Ocampo further stated that during the ongoing civil war, "War crimes are apparently committed as a matter of policy" by forces loyal to Gaddafi.[40] This is further supported by claims of Human Rights Watch, that 10 protesters, who had already agreed to lay down arms, were executed by a government paramilitary group in Bani Walid in May.[41]

On 26 February 2011, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously in a resolution to impose strict sanctions, including targeted travel bans, against Gaddafi's government, as well as to refer Gaddafi and other members of his regime to the International Criminal Court for investigation into allegations of brutality against civilians, which could constitute crimes against humanity in violation of international law.[42] There are many reports of these sanctions being broken where support against Libyan government forces is the case.[43]

Rebel forces have been criticized for a number of human rights violations, including indiscriminate bombardment of heavily populated cities, torture and killing of prisoners of war, and racist lynchings of black people.[21][44]

In June 2011, a detailed investigation carried out by Amnesty International claimed that many of the allegations against Gaddafi and the Libyan state turned out to either be false or lack any credible evidence, noting that rebels at times appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence. According to the Amnesty investigation, the number of casualties was heavily exaggerated, some of the protesters may have been armed, "there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen," and there is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds. It also doubted claims from the Western media that the protest movement was "entirely peaceful" and "presented no security challenge."[45]

In July 2011, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had an interview with Russia Today, where he denied the ICC's allegations that he or his father Muammar Gaddafi ordered the killing of civilian protesters. He pointed out that he is not a member of the government or the military, and therefore has no authority to give such orders. According to Saif, he made recorded calls to General Abdul Fatah Younis, who later defected to the rebel forces, in order to request not to use force against protesters, to which Fatah responded that they are attacking a military site, where surprised guards fired in self-defense.[46][47]

In August 2011, Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting severe violations of human rights and evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in Misrata.[48] In December 2011, PHR released another report documenting evidence of a massacre at a warehouse in Tripoli in which soldiers of Khamis Qaddafi’s 32nd Brigade unlawfully detained, raped, tortured and executed at least 53 detainees.[49] PHR’s medico-legal investigation and resulting report provided the first comprehensive account of the 32nd Brigade massacre, and provided forensic evidence needed to secure accountability for crimes according to international legal standards.

In January 2012, independent human rights groups published a report describing the human rights violations committed by all sides, including NATO, anti-Gaddafi forces, and pro-Gaddafi forces. The same report also accused NATO of war crimes.[50] During and after the war, the National Transitional Council implemented a new Law 37, restricting freedom of speech, where any praise of glorification of Gaddafi or the previous government is punishable with imprisonment, with sentences ranging from three to fifteen years. The law was eventually revoked in June 2012.[51]

Women's rights

As in many modern revolutions women played a major role in the 2011 Libyan Revolution. After the revolution, however, concerns have been raised by human rights groups about attempts to sideline women in Libya's political and economic environments as well as a failure to strongly articulate women's rights in the country's constitution.[52]

Historical situation

Country ratings from Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2013 survey, concerning the state of world freedom in 2012.[53]
  Free (90)   Partly Free (58)   Not Free (47)
The following table shows Libya's ratings since 1972 in the Freedom in the World reports, published annually by the US government-funded Freedom House. A score of 1 is "best"; 7 is "worst".[54]
Year Political Rights Civil Liberties Status Head of State
1972 7 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1973 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1974 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1975 7 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1976 7 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1977 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1978 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1979 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1980 6 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1981 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1982 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1983 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1984 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1985 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1986 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1987 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1988 6 6 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1989 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1990 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1991 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1992 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1993 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1994 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1995 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1996 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1997 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1998 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
1999 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2000 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2001 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2002 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2003 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2004 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2005 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2006 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2007 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2008 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2009 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2010 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2011 7 7 Not Free Muammar Gaddafi
2012 7 6 Not Free Mustafa Abdul Jalil
2013 4 5 Partly Free Mohammed Magariaf

International treaties

Libya's stances on international human rights treaties are as follows:

See also


1.^ Note that the "Year" signifies the "Year covered". Therefore the information for the year marked 2008 is from the report published in 2009, and so on.
2.^ As of 1 January.
3.^ The 1982 report covers 1981 and the first half of 1982, and the following 1984 report covers the second half of 1982 and the whole of 1983. In the interest of simplicity, these two aberrant "year and a half" reports have been split into three year long reports through interpolation.


  1. ^ a b c Azad, Sher (22 October 2011). "Gaddafi and the media". Daily News. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Hussein, Mohamed (21 February 2011). "Libya crisis: what role do tribal loyalties play?".  
  3. ^ Robbins, James (7 March 2007). "Eyewitness: Dialogue in the desert". BBC News. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  4. ^ The Great Green Charter of Human Rights of the Jamahiriyan Era
  5. ^ Shimatsu, Yoichi (21 October 2011). "Villain or Hero? Desert Lion Perishes, Leaving West Explosive Legacy".  
  6. ^ "Zimbabwe: Reason Wafavarova - Reverence for Hatred of Democracy".  
  7. ^ "Freedom in the World 2006" (PDF).  
    See also
    Freedom in the World 2006, List of indices of freedom
  8. ^ "Libya - Amnesty International Report 2010". Hundreds of cases of enforced disappearance and other serious human rights violations committed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s remained unresolved, and the Internal Security Agency (ISA), implicated in those violations, continued to operate with impunity. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Libyan Arab Jamahiriya".  
  10. ^ a b Ham, Anthony (2007). Libya (2nd ed. ed.). Footscray, Victoria:  
  11. ^ a b c d Vandewalle, Dirk J. (2006). A history of modern Libya. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 124.  
  12. ^ a b c Eljahmi, Mohamed (2006). "Libya and the U.S.: Qadhafi Unrepentant".  
  13. ^ The Middle East and North Africa 2003 (2002). Eur. p. 758.
  14. ^ David, Brian Lee. Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya. 
  15. ^ a b Ham, Anthony (2007). Libya (2nd ed. ed.). Footscray, Victoria:  
  16. ^ Bright, Martin (28 March 2004). "Gadaffi still hunts 'stray dogs' in UK". The Guardian (UK). 
  17. ^ "A New Flag Flies in the East".  
  18. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (6 March 2007). "Libya".  
  19. ^ "Libya Must End Racism Against Black African Migrants and Others". 
  20. ^ UN Watch (16 February 2010). "Written statement* submitted by the United Nations Watch (UN Watch), a non-governmental organization in special consultative status" (A/HRC/13/NGO/122). United Nations Human Rights Council. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  21. ^ a b Milne, Seumas (26 October 2011). "If the Libyan war was about saving lives, it was a catastrophic failure".  
  22. ^ "National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 15 (a) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" (HRC/WG.6/9/LBY/1), United Nations Human Rights Council, 24 August 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  23. ^ Kovac, Carl; Khandjiev, Radko (2001-02-03). "Doctors face murder charges in Libya".  
  24. ^ "HIV medics released to Bulgaria". BBC News. 2007-07-24. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  25. ^ "Investigation Needed into Prison Deaths".  
  26. ^ "Site news Bilal bin Rabah (the city of Al Bayda, Libya), a meeting with the Libyan Minister of Justice". Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  27. ^ "Libya: Free All Unjustly Detained Prisoners".  
  28. ^ a b c "Libya: June 1996 Killings at Abu Salim Prison", Human Rights Watch, 27 June 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  29. ^ Shuaib (6 September 2009). "Libya appoints judge to probe 1996 prison massacre". Reuters. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  30. ^ "Mass grave believed to hold more than 1,200 Libyan prisoners killed by Gadhafi regime in '96".  
  31. ^ "Libya hedges mass grave claim". CNN. 26 September 2011. 
  32. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D.;  
  33. ^ Henderson, Barney (12 October 2011). "'"Libyan rebels 'torturing suspected gaddafi mercenaries. The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  34. ^ Walker, Portia (1 July 2011). "Gaddafi's son denies ordering use of lethal force against civilians".  
  35. ^ "Arab League Deeply Concerned by Libya Violence".  
  36. ^ Galal, Ola (22 February 2011). "'"Arab League Bars Libya From Meetings, Citing Forces' 'Crimes.  
  37. ^ "Libya Suspended from Rights Body".  
  38. ^ "Gaddafi Sees Global Assets Frozen".  
  39. ^ "US Focuses on Libya, Neglects Abuses Elsewhere".  
  40. ^ a b Simons, Marlise; MacFarquhar, Neil (4 May 2011). "Libyan Officials' Arrests Sought by Court in Hague".  
  41. ^ "Libya: 10 Protesters apparently executed".  
  42. ^ "U.N. Security Council Slaps Sanctions on Libya".  
  43. ^ "Report: Egypt Arming Libyan Rebels".  
  44. ^ "Deceit in Nato bombing of Gadhafi cities and loyalists revealed".  
  45. ^ Cockburn, Patrick (24 June 2011). "Amnesty Questions Claim That Gaddafi Ordered Rape as Weapon of War".  
  46. ^ "Gaddafi's son: Libya like McDonald's for NATO - fast war as fast food".  
  47. ^ Smith, David (1 July 2011). "Gaddafi's son claims Nato wants deal with Libya".  
  48. ^ Physicians for Human Rights. "Witness to War Crimes: Evidence from Misrata, Libya." Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  49. ^ Physicians for Human Rights. "32nd Brigade Massacre: Evidence of War Crimes and the Need to Ensure Justice and Accountability in Libya." Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  50. ^ Shabi, Rachel (19 January 2012). "Nato accused of war crimes in Libya".  
  51. ^ "Libya revokes Muammar Gaddafi praise law".  
  52. ^ "Revolution for All: Women’s Rights in the New Libya", Human Rights Watch, 19 May 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  53. ^ Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House, 11 January 2013. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
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External links

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